woman reading and a man at a white board

Goal Setting: you’ve been doing it wrong (5 ways to do it right)

I’ve been going about goal setting all wrong and I’m willing to bet you have been as well.

Goal setting is an intrinsic and vital ingredient for your life’s happiness. It has been shown that progress towards goals results in significantly happier lives – a process that begins with setting goals in the first place.

You set a goal so that you can accomplish said goal and then be happy as a result, right? That’s the thinking, but hardly the reality. Goals tend to loom over us and we get frustrated when we don’t accomplish them or make giant strides towards them.

I recently. came to a realization after years of setting goals that offered little to no satisfaction on the way to their “summit”. You know what those goals sound like… “I want to become the president of the United States“; “I want to get on the cover of Forbes“; “I want to become a millionaire

Why are we all setting life goals that offer little satisfaction on the way to accomplishing them?

goal setting- man balancing on chair

I call the above goals BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS goals and they are great life goals to set! BUT, notice I said life goals and not career goals or financial goals, etc.

I have learned that setting goals of any kind is all about setting goals that offer value in your life FIRST and then value and reward towards the specific area in which you set them.

Whether you’re setting a big hairy audacious goal like becoming a CEO, a world-class athlete or a NASA astronaut, I firmly believe you need to set your goals in such a way that is immediately relative to your life’s intrinsic happiness.

Setting a goal is one thing. Deriving happiness from the goal itself is another.

… and that therein is where the problem lies. We are not setting goals in a way that allows us to reward ourselves for progress! We simply are not holding ourselves to a standard that rewards progress – no matter how small or seemingly minuscule in the long run.

Goals should make you happy because you’re able to derive satisfaction from the journey on the way to the end goal! But that is hardly what we tend to do. We set noble and sky-high goals (which is great), but we don’t allow ourselves any success or satisfaction along the way because we are so focused on the end result… the finish line.

I was listening to the song 99 by Russ recently and there’s a line in it that says “I’m in it for the height, not the summit.

That line has totally changed the way I look at goals and it has taught me something vitally important:

To be happy with your goals, you need to appreciate the process.

I absolutely set BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOALS, but I have learned to appreciate each individual success within that goal journey. It has allowed me to appreciate what I have built for myself and to stay motivated along the way to the top.

If you’re setting HUGE goals with crazy goal outcomes, keep setting them! … but structure them in a way that motivates you to keep going and offer you happiness and fulfillment along the way… otherwise, what’s the point?

I have learned a lot about setting goals in this manner and I want to share my discoveries with you.

Here are 5 ways to set long term goals that give you happiness on the way to accomplishing them.

goal setting - man in street with camera

1. Separate your career goals from other ‘happiness-focused’ goals.

This is a big one that I struggled with for a long time.

When you graduate from school you dedicate the entirety of your energy towards finding a career and developing yourself rapidly within the confines of that goal. I don’t blame you! It’s what is expected of you and the admittedly the best way to develop your skillset and set up your future. BUT, if you allow the confines of this context to serve as the only parameters for the goals you set, you are going to set yourself up for disappointment.

Career goals are, in the definition itself, to be accomplished over a long period of a time (a career). Setting a career goal (such as becoming the CEO of a major fortune 500 company for example) is a great idea, but allowing that goal to overlap with your life goals (#2 below) will remove a lot of your ability to parse out happiness along the way. They should not be the same.

When I first graduated from school and began working in advertising in Chicago, I would set a goal like this:

I want to become a world renowned author and travel the world.

What I have come to realize is that combining “career-type” goals like becoming a renowned author with intrinsic life goals like those of travel and happiness will set yourself up for disappointment. Rather than combining goals like that or creating if/then goals, parse them out. This will allow you to reflect on small accomplishments that offer satisfaction and growth.

How would you measure progress towards traveling the world and total freedom? That’s pretty difficult. Measuring success against becoming a renowned author? That’s a much easier journey to track and reflect on. For example, you would gain satisfaction from appearing on a well-known author’s podcast, or getting published in The Huffington Post, etc.

The point being, keep your career goals and your intrinsic life goals separate.

2. Set life goals.

Building off that… set some life goals, people!

When asked what your goals are in life, I tend to see myself and my millennial crew immediately think about goals related to success metrics and career accomplishments. That’s all good and great, but what about goals that relate to what makes us happy, what excites us and what motivates us? Certainly that can be related to your career, but put that aside for a moment and dig deeper.

What is it about your career goal that is appealing to you? What would becoming a fortune 500 CEO offer to you on a personal level? What would becoming a NASA astronaut offer you intrinsically? This is where we often tack on a quick addendum to goals like I will become ____ so that I can ____.

We should be making that second part our life’s priority and I rarely see that when I ask my friends and colleagues about their goals.

From my previous example, what would becoming a world renowned author offer me personally?

I’ve always loved writing – something about that creative process is very rewarding and satisfying to me. But it’s more than that. Writing would give my thoughts a tangible voice that can never be deleted or muted. But, again, there’s more. That voice would be spread and read by millions who in turn could appreciate what I have to say. What do I have to say? I can’t say for sure but I know that through written word I want to share experiences and stories that offer life altering perspectives.

Using a process like that to break down your career goal into something that means more on a personal level has been incredibly value for me in terms of setting a goal that allows me to appreciate the process.

Goal: have my voice be heard by millions so it can inspire.

Setting a goal like that will allow you to repeatedly look back and acknowledge the growth you’ve experienced and the journey you’ve embarked upon. It will help you enjoy the process!

3. Be specific

Vague goals get vague results!

This is a short point but something I have found to be lacking in my own goal setting and that of my peers.

Once I started being specific about what I wanted and when I want it, things really started to become more clear for me.

Without a vision of a timeline, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of procrastination, blame and stagnation. Give yourself something to work towards and a timeline to do it on. Certainly, setting a goal like become an expert in ______ doesn’t necessarily require a timeline, but you can break down a goal like that into more manageable time-oriented parts – get my PHD by 28, etc.

This isn’t some The Secret type stuff where if you just visualize it, it will eventually manifest based on the world’s timing.

No. Set a timeline you want and use that to guide you.

Just as specific as a timeline is the goal itself. It certainly requires you to really know what you want to do specifically (duh), but once you figure that out, be determined about holding yourself to that.

What kind of author do you want to become? What exactly do you want to accomplish?

You don’t need to have a one sentence goal. You should create multiple goals. A career goal, a life goal, a specific accomplishment-related goal, etc.

4. Write em down

If you haven’t written your goals down, they are nowhere but in your head.

Hold yourself accountable by writing your goals down and posting them where you can see them as frequently as possible.

I had an amazing CEO once who wrote a post-it note on her mirror saying that she was going to sell her technology company by xx date. She saw it every single morning for years. And ya know what? She eventually accomplished that goal.

I can’t say for certain that seeing that post-it note every morning tangibly helped her accomplish her goal, but I know for sure that that daily morning and evening reminder pushed her to continue moving forward and appreciate the journey.

You should be doing the same! Write your goals down. Make it your phone background or write them on a post-it note. Heck, get a tattoo of them if you want. Whatever you decide, by writing it down, you are making it tangible. You are making it known to yourself and the universe that it is something you are working towards.

Having it written down will also offer you the opportunity to frequently reflect on your progress. Hopefully you’ll be making small progress and this will allow you to appreciate the process and actually get enjoyment out of goal setting and working towards it.

5. Don’t share them!

There are two school of thoughts here.

1. Tell your friends your goals. Speaking them out loud helps keep you accountable and enables you to use your close friend circle as a small and personal support group.

2. Don’t tell anyone

I’m in the #2 group. I rarely voice my goals to anyone other than extremely close friends or family. Why?

Because it has been proven that by telling others your goals, you’re less likely to accomplish them.

Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal makes you significantly less likely to accomplish them. Once you set a goal there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done and effort exerted to accomplish it. Your satisfaction comes from the journey to accomplishing it as well as the final moment when you meet and surpass your goal. But when you tell people about your goal, psychologists have found that it’s something called  a “social reality” where the mind is tricked into feeling that the goal has already been accomplished. As a result of that placebo effect of satisfaction, you’re less motivated to do the actual hard work required.

So, keep your mouth shut, realize that you need to put in the work and stay motivated.

Enjoy the journey!

Those are the 5 ways I have been setting my goals lately and while it might not be immediately apparent, taking the above approach will help you appreciate the journey towards accomplishing them.